Related topics

Graves of Victims of Stalinism Testify to Central Europe’s Woes

June 10, 1991

WEIMAR, Germany (AP) _ Almost a half-century after World War II ended, the haunted forest overlooking Weimar is still yielding evidence of the successive barbarities that Central Europe has endured.

The Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald is well known. Its tall crematorium smokestack is stirring testimony to the 65,000 people, mostly Jews and German political prisoners, who were executed or worked to death there by the Nazis from 1937 until the war’s end in 1945.

Little known until recently was that Buchenwald was transformed into a camp run by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s secret police - and an estimated 8,000 to 13,000 more died there before the camp was closed in 1950.

Evidence of mass graves emerged after the collapse in late 1989 of East Germany’s Communist leaders, who had suppressed the story of what their Soviet allies had done.

″I found bones there in the forest myself,″ said Dierk Pribbernow, a reporter for the Weimarer Tagespost newspaper. He wrote about the shallow mass graves just outside the barbed wire around the Buchenwald camp memorial.

On Monday, Chancellor Helmut Kohl took time from political meetings in Weimar to lay wreaths inscribed ″To victims of tyranny″ - one at the massive stone tower erected by the East Germans to honor the Nazi-era victims, and one at a new memorial to Stalin’s victims.

The new memorial is only six wooden crosses and some fresh flowers at the end of a simple gravel path into the Ettersberg Forest. But activists in Weimar hope to see a permanent monument to the victims, and to assemble the history that was suppressed.

″My father was a member of the Nazi Party. He was arrested on Sept. 1, 1945, by the Russians,″ said Heidrun Brauer, 47, a school administrator in Weimar.

She and her 50-year-old husband, Lothar, an engineer, founded a lobbying group. They have received thousands of letters from survivors of the Soviet- run camp and from relatives of those who disappeared without trace.

Her father was released in 1948 and resumed work as a surveyor, but his health had been broken by the camp’s starvation rations and disease, and he died in 1955 at age 59, she said.

He never spoke to her about what he had endured, she said. ″The Soviet army was still here, and so was the NKVD (predecessor of the KGB secret police), which ran the camp,″ she said.

As a child, she and other East Germans were indoctrinated only about the inmates’ uprising in Buchenwald at the end of the war.

″We had parades about it, everybody had to take part, but we knew it was only half the story,″ she said in an interview at their home.

Lothar Brauer said the information they have assembled indicates that half the inmates were former Nazis - usually low-ranking officials. He said the rest were innocent people arrested because of membership in Nazi youth groups, false denunciations or general suspicion.

Though some inmates died of torture in initial interrogations, few were executed in the Soviet camp, he said. The deaths came from malnutrition and disease.

The inmates, the Brauers said, were mostly men, with some women and youths as young as 12.

Again, some Jews were among the victims, Mrs. Brauer said.

Joachim Kersten came to see Kohl lay his wreath in the forest, and took the gesture as a memorial to his father, Walter Kersten, who had been in a Nazi concentration camp until 1942. The younger Kersten said his father was arrested by the Russians after the war ″because he was a capitalist.″

He showed a copy of a document dated 1950 saying two survivors of the camp had witnessed his father’s death. Until then, the family had known nothing of his fate.

″He is buried here, somewhere,″ Kersten said.

The Soviet camp closed in 1950, a year after East Germany was established as a Soviet-allied country. In the late 1950s, the East Germans opened the Buchenwald memorial. It remains controversial in historical terms because it puts little emphasis on Jewish inmates and concentrates more on German Communist figures.

Leadership of the memorial has been in flux since East and West Germany united in October. A West German historian who was named director had to step down earlier this year because he had concealed his membership in the West German Communist party.

Thomas Hofmann, a historian from western Germany, was appointed Friday as new director by the Thuringia state government, which is responsible now for the memorial.

Update hourly